With just two weeks left on our Australian visas we find ourselves being propelled out of the country. Not by officials but by the tide as it rushes through the Torres Strait Islands, the northernmost outpost of Australia. We are carried along at nearly double our normal speed, with barely a chance to say goodbye. Along with the tide, the trade winds are funneled through this area, creating a conveyor belt whisking us along our way to Indonesia. We are not alone on this moving carpet of wind and water; we are sharing it with several other boats leaving at the same time, part of the Sail-2-Indonesia rally which we will join once we arrive in Indonesia.
Watching the rapidly receding Torres Straight islands dip below the horizon brought the reality of our departure from Australia, our home for the last 9 months. Our feelings became as churned as the swirling current surrounding us. No matter how excited we are to be heading towards Indonesia, there are things about Australia we will certainly miss, namely the wildlife, the wild places and the people.
Here is just a taste of the wonderful wildlife we have encountered when exploring the countries bush, rivers, reef.
Despite not staying in one place in Australia for more than a couple of weeks at a time, we have grown comfortable. Australia has not only been similar to the UK but we have been here long enough to develop an understanding of how to go about everyday life. Constant travel can become tiresome; everyday tasks take much more time as we are constantly dealing with cultural differences, mentally calculating currency, working out where to get parts/provisions etc. So long in one country has made our lives much easier as a result, yet gradually a yearning to experience something different has re-built itself within us. The comfort of the familiar, although a welcome break, has left us feeling the ‘adventure’ of this journey has been on hold. We are now ready to move on and kick start the adventure. Lucky really as we are being rapidly propelled towards an entirely new country and culture.
Florence is well in her groove, yet it is taking longer than normal for us to find ours; the steep chop and fresh breeze make life at sea uncomfortable. Tired, lethargic, and grumpy, the grey skies reflect our mood. At 650nm and 4-5 days at sea, this will be our longest non-stop passage of the year. In fact, although we will still be sailing thousands of miles, this year will hold the least open ocean sailing of any year of our trip so far.
After the first couple of days, the sea state calmed down a little and life on board became more pleasant. Our thoughts turned to our arrival in Debut, a rapidly approaching village in The Kai Islands.
As what we hoped would be our final night at sea began, we saw what looked like a small city lighting up the horizon where the chart showed only sea. We had heard the charts were not to be trusted but were they really that far off?
Fishing boats started to appear, another indication of a potential population nearby. Before long over 40 brightly lit fishing boats could be counted around us. By this point it became clear that the nearby city was in fact another huge fleet of fishing boats, lit up by high intensity lights to attract the fish and filling at least 4 miles of the horizon. A long night was spent detouring the floating city and hundreds of other fishing boats, their blazing lights making the boats easy to spot but leaving us wondering about nets and long lines. Usually in situations like this, we would reduce speed to reduce the risk should we become entangled in something, Murphy’s law would have it that we needed to keep averaging 6.5 knots if we were to arrive in Debut in good light, and to avoid another night in the dark, dodging hazards. Entering Debut in the dark was not an option.
Florence took all of this in her stride, easily maintaining a 7 knot average and occasionally surfing the swell to 10 knots, all under the control of our Aeries windvane steering. Our reliable old girl pulled into the anchorage, in the early afternoon, after just 4.25 days of sailing. There were sobering tales from other boats in the fleet, several had become tangled in nets/lines and at least one hit a reef on the way into the anchorage, requiring their rudder to be removed for a large repair. A strong reminder if we needed one, that we need to be on our toes having left the regulated and well charted waters of Australia.
Checking into Indonesia was certainly an experience to be remembered, but not for the reasons we thought it would be. Stories on the cruising grapevine had us prepared for the most difficult, frustrating and lengthy procedure of any country so far.
Our experience was instead enjoyable. 1 hour after arrival an open boat, packed with 13 smiling officials approached Florence. One by one they made their way down below until it was clear there was no more room down below. The table was pilled with paper work and a production line of signing and stamping was quickly created. Matt lead the signing and stamping while Amy took on the inspection. Before each cupboard/hatch could be inspected, at least one body needed to be politely moved before it could be reached. Our only regret was that we hadn’t had time to set up a camera to film the whole procedure. Once satisfied with everything on board, we were sent ashore for photocopying and more signing/stamping. The village was a riot of colour and sound, the customs office shook with the volume of the welcome ceremony rehearsals, while flags and people lined the streets. Just 3 hours after dropping the anchor we were officially checked in, we are now free to explore Indonesia and boy are we looking forward to it.